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Transcript of joint doorstop: Luna Park, Sydney: 5 December 2005: CFMEU Picnic Day; Immigration Department bungles; Reserve Bank board appointments.

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Subjects: CFMEU Picnic Day; Immigration Department bungles; Reserve Bank board appointments

FERGUSON: Firstly, on behalf of tens of thousands of building workers and their families, I thank Kim Beazley for coming here on short notice. We’ve had a picnic day in our award for over 50 years, established by workers and their families. Building workers work long hours, often 10 hours a day, six days a week, and this is one family day building workers and their children look forward to. Unfortunately, we’ve got no Christmas spirit from the Prime Minister. He’s decided to rip out of all the awards in this country picnic day, industry day, but what we’re seeing here is families voting with their feet, supporting their rights and, in particular, welcoming Kim Beazley here today.

BEAZLEY: Thanks, Andrew and thanks for having us here. Look, John Howard just put through Parliament last Friday the most savage industrial attack on family life that any government has ever put in place. What we are going to do as the Labor Party, over the next two years is campaign at functions like this, in workplaces, railway stations, shopping centres, under the radar, effectively pointing out to people that we are giving them this absolute guarantee, we’re going to rip these laws up and we’re going to put in place laws which allow for the fair treatment of ordinary Australian families and workers.

Now, unions work extremely hard for their members and when you see beautiful family days like this, which is replicated all over NSW, this is just one site, you can see how important that collective endeavour is to our sense of community and our ability to keep families together with quality time.

So it is absolutely critical this Government now gets defeated so their industrial relations system can be changed and a decent fair system put in place. When you lose your penalty rates, when you lose your shift allowances, when you lose your holiday pay, you lose your capacity to pay for your mortgages far more devastatingly than an interest rate rise.

This change that the Howard Government has put in place will slowly, steadily undermine family incomes and family life. That’s why we’re going to rip this legislation up. That’s why we’re going to put in place instead a fair system that

gives proper weight to collective bargaining, to awards capable of covering things like this family holiday, to make absolutely certain that Australia’s tradition of treating families decently is sustained. Over to you.

JOURNALIST: How will the country be worse off without union picnic days?

BEAZLEY: Without unions …

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) union picnic days.

BEAZLEY: It’s not just picnic days. It’s penalty rates, it’s picnic days, it’s normal public holidays, it’s shift allowances, it’s redundancy pay, all these things are being stripped out of awards. When you’ve got a government which says you have to give your employer a reasonable excuse to take Christmas Day off, you know you’re dealing with a government that is arrogant, out of touch, lost touch with real family life. So, this day just basically symbolises all those other things covered by awards which have been stripped out.

JOURNALIST: Wouldn’t union picnic days equally symbolise another large slice of the community the fact that unions are anachronistic?

BEAZLEY: The union movement has for the last 100 years plus made absolutely certain that people have a fair chance in the bargaining process. Every Australian knows they don’t bargain on an equal basis with the boss. They can’t. It’s not an equal bargaining relationship. The union movement, the Industrial Relations Commission; they’re the equalisers; they’re the ones who

ensure the possibility of a fair go.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, today there are reports that one of Saddam Hussein’s former associates is living in Australia. Your Shadow Immigration Minister’s described it as a national disgrace. What do you make of those reports?

BEAZLEY: There needs to be a Royal Commission into the Immigration Department. The Immigration Department has become a turnstile of incompetence. They don’t know who’s going out of the country; they don’t know who’s coming into the country. Quite frankly, this is so materially botched, this whole operation, that nothing short of a Royal Commission will reveal what needs to be done to turn it around.

JOURNALIST: Is it appropriate that this man has been allowed to live in Australia, as the report exhibits?

BEAZLEY: The Department of Immigration wouldn’t know whether it’s appropriate or not. But I have to say this: if you were a soldier serving in Iraq, you really would want to ask a question, wouldn’t you, about the government that

had sent you there. You know, a couple of weeks ago and continuing, we have the scandal which was revealed that it’s Australian money, effectively, that’s paying for the insurgency via the Wheat Board deals, Australian’s paying for the insurgency via the Wheat Board deals. Now we see this. An Australian soldier in Iraq would say, “What’s going on here? What am I supposed to be doing here when the Government back at home is effectively undermining me?”

JOURNALIST: Mr Ferguson, back on the picnic day if I may, what about people who might just think “ah picnic days, it’s just a good excuse for a day off - go to the beach”?

FERGUSON: Well, it’s not about the beach, it’s about being with your family and as I said earlier, building workers make a great contribution to this country. They built our cities; they built our infrastructure; ten hours a day, six

days a week and they’re been granted by the courts, not by the union office, one day a year to celebrate with their families, with other workers in the industry. It’s a long tradition and traditions about family life should be continued despite the attacks of the Howard Government.

JOURNALIST: Do you get more out of the building worker if they have a picnic day off every year?

FERGUSON: All the evidence is, in terms of research, people that have quality of life; have good family life; community life, are more productive. Attacking workers’ rights; attacking their wages; their quality of life; their working hours isn’t a recipe for increased productivity in this country.

JOURNALIST: The functions that you’ve got organised today, how many people are going to turn up to it?

FERGUSON: We’ve got probably about 30,000 people across NSW from Tweed Heads down the far South Coast across Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong celebrating a family day, a long tradition that the Howard Government should keep their hands off.

BEAZLEY: I’d like to say one thing about the union here - this is the CFMEU, it’s their picnic day. This is the branch of the union that gave Sydney that brilliant performance on construction for the Olympics, on time, within cost - it was a truly brilliant, Australian working performance. The people who are around us here are the men basically who did it; they’re here and of course, elsewhere in NSW. We Australians, work harder than anyone else in the industrialised world - harder and longer than anyone else. We work, on average, a full-time worker, 1,870 hours a year. The nearest to us are the Americans, they work 1,830 hours; the Japanese are down to about 1,700; the Dutch, who everybody thinks of as very hard-working, at about 1,300.

We are the hardest working people in the world but we have some off-sets and this is one of them - and the offsets usually negotiated by the unions. And it’s the thing which keeps us hardworking, the support of our families and the sense that every now and then we get appreciated.

JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t every Australian then have a picnic day off, because they don’t do they?

BEAZLEY: Many do, the CFMEU is not unique - building workers are not unique in this regard. I can remember as a kid going to the wharfie picnic because my Dad represented Fremantle in those days and it was the same as this. It was an opportunity for families to get together and have that sense of community life. Many things in our society undermine the family and rip away at that, and John Howard has just introduced into our system, a termite infestation on family life basically - it will crumble away under this.

JOURNALIST: Has the Prime Minister ever had the benefit of going to a picnic day (inaudible)?

BEAZLEY: I hope he has. I think most Australians know what fun a picnic day is and how good it is for the family. So, I just assume that he’s been through it like every other Australian household. For him to be taking it away from these workers and their families is a tragedy.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) terror suspect, Saleh Jamal, who’s in jail in Lebanon, says that Australian police have offered him a deal to come back to Australia to inform on six terror suspects that are here. Should Australia authorities be offering such deals?

BEAZLEY: I know nothing about the particular circumstances of the offer but I would say this: in criminal investigations and terrorism is a criminal investigation as well as a political fight, the police will operationally, from time to time, make offerings to some people in order to collect evidence on others - it’s a standard practice.

JOURNALIST: Does that constitute negotiating with a terrorist?

BEAZLEY: When the police get into the business of negotiating with criminals; they negotiate with bank robbers, murderers or accessories to murderers, they’ll use whatever means they can to protect the community. The main point is whether or not this is taking place, the main point is: is it serving our interests in the greater fight against terrorism. Now, if it is, then it’s appropriate.

JOURNALIST: Just for an event like this; this comes out of union fees presumably?

FERGUSON: Members pay for services. We bargain hard about wages, working conditions, fight for better safety standards but an important part of union work is looking after families - if someone is killed, backing up a widow but also providing a great family day. We make no apology of that being part of our union agenda.

JOURNALIST: How much does this hurt productivity on a day like today?

FERGUSON: It doesn’t hurt productivity if you look at life more broadly than that one day. As I said earlier, workers work very hard in this industry, they built the Olympics, they just built the cross city tunnel in Sydney, they built this city and they’ve got the right, once a year, to a family day to compensate the long hours of work.

JOURNALIST: Mr Beazley, Wayne Swan has identified that there may be some problems with Reserve Bank Board member, Roger Corbett. What’s Labor’s stance on pursuing these complaints against him?

BEAZLEY: Wayne hasn’t said anything in relation to Roger Corbett. As far as we know there would be nothing against appointing a chap like Roger Corbett to the Reserve Bank Board, he’s a very good businessman. Our problem is not with the personnel - our problem is with the process. There needs to be a far more transparent process for appointment to the Reserve Bank Board. We do not want situations like that which arose over Mr Gerard to repeat themselves and the time has come for more openness. Costello’s also got to explain the circumstances of Gerard’s appointment - he’s not done that. And the Prime Minister has got to explain why he wanted to rip the rug out from under Costello.